American country music group The Band Perry plays at the handover ceremony for the first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to Air New Zealand. Photo: Bret Hartman
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Christopher Luxon might well have emulated Batman's alter-ego Bruce Wayne when placing an order for the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and asked "Does it come in black?"
It does, and Air New Zealand has become the first airline to take delivery of the new 787-9, a stretched version of the revolutionary Dreamliner aircraft.
The plane was handed over in front of more than 1000 Boeing employees and guests at the aircraft manufacturer's facility in Everett, near Seattle in the US.
Air New Zealand's first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Air New Zealand's Business Premier class on board the new 787-9 Dreamliner.
"It's a privilege to be the global launch customer for this aircraft and our team is looking forward to flying it home to New Zealand. The 787-9 is a real game changer," Mr Luxon said.
The fuselage for the 787-9 is stretched by 6 metres over the 787-8, and will fly up to 40 more passengers an additional 450 nautical miles (830 km).
Boeing's Dreamliners feature several major differences from other major passenger aircraft.
It is the first airliner to be made of carbon fibre, not aluminium, and promises airlines more fuel efficiency – a saving of 20 per cent. It also offers 20 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than comparable aircraft.
The aircraft promises a better experience for passengers too. The cabin air is, unlike other aircraft, drawn directly from outside, rather than through the engines, meaning it is fresher. The air is also more humid, and pressurised at a lower level – the theory being that passengers will feel better at the end of their flights. There are also larger windows and a more spacious cabin.
This week, Traveller's Flight Test review of Qatar Airways 787-8 declared that the Dreamliner's features made a big difference to the travelling experience.
Twenty-six customers from around the world have ordered 409 787-9s, accounting for 40 per cent of all 787 orders, Boeing said.
The Air New Zealand aircraft is scheduled to depart the US on Thursday morning, local time, and arrive in Auckland late afternoon on Friday.
This is the first of ten 787-9 Dreamliners to join Air New Zealand's fleet. The aircraft will operate the Auckland-Perth route from 15 October 2014 and to Shanghai and Tokyo later this year.
Another of Air New Zealand’s 787-9s will be displayed by Boeing at the Farnborough International Airshow later this month.
Delayed for several years, the Dreamliner has faced criticism over its reliability from some carriers. All active aircraft were grounded for three months last year after a battery fire on one Dreamliner. The incident forced Boeing to re-design the powerful lithium-ion battery and enclose it in a tough new steel containment box.
Boeing admitted in January it was not satisfied with the aircraft's performance. The Dreamliner's reliability rate was at about 98 per cent – this meant that two out of every 100 flights were delayed for mechanical problems. The rate was higher than the 97 per cent recorded in October but was still short of Boeing's target. The company aims to have the aircraft's reliability up to the level of its long-range 777 model, which has a reliability rate of 99.4 per cent.